Italian Photographer Kidnapped in Afghanistan Released

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An Italian photographer kidnapped in Afghanistan last month was freed Friday in good health and reportedly said he never saw daylight and was kept in chains during his three weeks in captivity.

Gabriele Torsello was kidnapped Oct. 12 while traveling by bus from Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern Helmand province, to neighboring Kandahar, said Ettore Francesco Sequi, Italy's ambassador to Afghanistan.

Sequi said authorities at an Italian-run hospital in Helmand province received a phone call Friday telling them to go to the road between Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, where an Afghan hospital employee found Torsello, he said.

Elsewhere, suspected militants ambushed a police patrol, killing six policemen and wounding three in western Afghanistan, while a think tank warned that more foreign troops are needed to secure the country.

Torsello, 36, a freelance photographer, is in good health, Sequi said. Maj. Luke Knittig, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said the military was helping transport Torsello back to Kabul by air, but he didn't know when he would arrive.

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In Italy, Modesto Nicoli, Torsello's family spokesman, welcomed the photographer's release.

"It's an indescribable joy, it's a news we have been waiting for a long time," he told SkyTG24.

Torsello's kidnappers had asked for the withdrawal of Italy's 1,800 troops from Afghanistan, and for the return of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who had faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity and was granted asylum in Italy.

Sequi said neither of those demands would be met, and that he didn't think that a ransom was paid for Torsello's freedom. He said pressure from local elders and the work of Afghan authorities helped free Torsello.

In the western Herat province, a police car was sprayed with bullets late Thursday, killing six officers, said Nasar Ahmad Paykar, the provincial deputy police chief, while in Kandahar province a suicide car bomber exploded near a NATO convoy Thursday, wounding three soldiers.

A new report on Afghanistan said insurgent attacks are creeping toward Kabul, and while the government isn't immediately threatened, urgent action is needed.

The report from the International Crisis Group said more international forces were needed in Afghanistan's battle zones and that diplomatic pressure is needed on neighboring Pakistan -- from where Taliban rebels are believed to plan and mount attacks. President Hamid Karzai must also attack government corruption, it said.

"The desire for a quick, cheap war followed by a quick, cheap peace is what has brought Afghanistan to the present, increasingly dangerous situation," said the report from the Brussels-based think tank, released Thursday.

The report said Afghanistan has proportionally fewer peacekeepers than other recent post-conflict situations like Bosnia and Kosovo.

The release of Torsello was first reported by PeaceReporter, the online daily of Emergency, the Italian aid group running the hospital in Helmand province.

According to a posting on the PeaceReporter Web site, Torsello said he never saw daylight while he was held, that he was always chained and that he sometimes read the Quran. Torsello previously converted to Islam.

"I thought constantly of my family while I was a prisoner, so much so that at certain times I was able to travel in my mind and imagine I was elsewhere. Then I would see the chains at my feet," the Web site quoted Torsello as saying.

Sequi said he couldn't yet say who kidnapped Torsello. The kidnappers originally claimed to be Taliban militants, but a Taliban spokesman denied that insurgents had taken him.

Afghan police previously said Torsello's translator was also kidnapped. Sequi said that wasn't true.

It wasn't clear what Torsello was doing in southern Afghanistan, a dangerous part of the country where Westerners rarely travel on their own, but a Taliban spokesman last month told The Associated Press that Torsello had spent time with fighters in Helmand.